Iran Protests

A little like France under the Ancien Régime, we can try to divide the pie of Iran into estates. The slices are messy, but it’s still worth doing:

  • Clergy, the Qom religious establishment, encompassing both the religiously liberal, and  hardliners. It has  institutional resemblance to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.
  • IRGC, the Guard. A warrior class, it analogizes with the French nobility.
  • Secular society, with a Western orientation, tending towards higher economic status.
  • Religious society,  tending towards lower economic status. The peasants.

The monarch is missing. Unlike the relationship between the Papacy and the monarchs of Europe in the late age of the Roman Empire,the president of Iran is kept on a short leash. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president from 2005 to 2013, tried to slip his leash by establishing a religious basis of legitimacy outside  the clerical establishment.  I don’t want to vet the articles, so just google “Ahmadinejad mystic“, and pick it over.

Had he succeeded, he would have analogized well with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope’s irritating rival. The clergy noticed this and became extremely irritated,   So irritated, in fact, that it was expedient to replace him by a liberal, Hassan Rouhani, just to get rid of him. If it had not been so urgent to get rid of Ahmadinejad, who pulled support from religious society, Qom might have had a better-for-them choice than Rouhani as  the most conservative electable candidate.

The clergy is closed to those without training, but religious society could be bundled with the IRGC, making a bundle of the “lay religious.” The secular government is not itself  a a group; it’s a battleground. Political machinery is short lived. Ahmadinejad’s machine had the greatest potential longevity, but he overplayed his hand.

The liberal tide reached a peak with the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. In 2005, unable to deliver on his platform of liberal reform, his second term ended with deep personal frustration. With political  fluidity the measure, it marked the end of the Iranian Revolution. It bears comparison with French Revolution, which by the same measure  ended with the Paris Commune revolt of 1871. Eventually, every revolution declares itself the last.

To make sure that the 1979 revolution was the last, Iran has impressive machinery of repression. There are so many hidden hands  there can be traffic jams behind the curtain. The  security establishment is working on the diagnosis. Protestors have been released so  the secret police can observe who is talking to who. Then there will be a sweep.

Differences between the 2009 Green Movement and this one have been noted:

  • To the extent that the protests are not spontaneous, the leadership lacks previous political visibility.
  • The  Green Movement was a clash between secular society and the clergy. This time, it’s different.

The current protests cross the societal divide. In the years following 1979, the IRIG became an avenue of opportunity for poor young men. In return for ideological fervor, and willingness to enforce internal repression, they had jobs. Slowly but inevitably, in the absence of external challenge to the state, or of a “renewal movement” internal to the IRIG, things have taken the natural course, further towards flab and corruption.

If we except monosyllables, Iran is the last ideological state in the world today. Corruption is dressed with ideas.  So is money. Religious and ideological ardor opens the door to financial gain. This should not surprise; it’s just one more recapitulation of the history of Western Europe. In Qom, the currency of personal advancement is religious exegesis, a special kind of literature. This seems strange to us, but as Bitcoin shows, all money is based on an abstraction. It also shows that quantity beats quality. The quantity is huge, the results are poor, but the money is still green.

The minds of the decision makers and religious establishment of Iran are totally occupied with the vast indigenous ocean of thought. There are divergences, which even those immersed in it poorly understand, if they are aware of it at all, between:

  • Stated reasons for something.
  • Real reasons, as understood by them.
  • Real, unconscious reasons, of which they are not aware.
  • Collective unconsciousness.

But we can do a little exegesis on the above. In order:

  • The constitution of Iran contains clauses aggressive to other nations, expressions of the theology of Iran.
  • Preserve the power structure of the theocratic state.
  • Personal status would vanish in the absence of a theocratic state.
  • Expansionism, which could be the root cause instead of the expression.

An expansionist phase, as occurred following the French and Russian revolutions,  Hitler’s putsch, and now, Iran, is one of the most common, but poorly understood motifs of history. Does it have a rational basis, or is it a mechanism of evolutionary/socio biology for species dispersal? If it is the root cause, we can drop a lot of boring academic papers in the trash can. We’re done!

We haven’t used the phrase “political change.” But if you want it, compare Trotskyism (build socialism everywhere) to Stalinism (build socialism in the Soviet Union first). While you’re at it, compare Trotsky’s complaint about Stalinist bureaucracy to the motives of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

If ideologies have mass, Iran has stability in mass. In the idea-mill of Qom, the current topics of discussion are probably something like this:

  • If   political stability is best served by creating the largest cohesive political bloc, is the presidency of Hassan Rouhani the best choice?
  • How can the challenge of expansionism be represented as a threat by foreign powers, so as to unify the country?

This is not a revolutionary situation. It lacks the potential instability of North Korea. Because Iran is drowning in ideas, Iranians are likely to be tone-deaf to ours.

Containment may eventually blunt Iran’s expansionist drive.





UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 3

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In,  UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 2 I wrote

What if an alien vehicle were not physically located where it appears to be? If it was a projection through a rent in space time, could we make sense of it by our tools of observation? What if the very fact of witnessing an event does not fit our conception of logic, which goes back to Aristotle?

 Are UFOs material objects? A good first step  is to try to fit UFOs into  categories  of physical phenomena:

  • Condensed matter physics? In other words, solid objects?
  • Other states of matter? Gas, plasma, Rydberg?
  • Exotic. Interaction between states of matter and space-time not known to us on smaller than cosmic scale.
  • Weakly interacting, leaving slight or no traces of interaction with the environment.  An elementary particle, the neutrino, is a good example of this. It can pass through a million miles of lead without a scratch.
  • Almost immaterial, Dark matter may comprise a large part of our universe, yet it is known only by weak interaction with normal matter.
  • Hints of the physical, but with contradiction in logic as we know it.

Quoting (NY Times) Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,

Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.

This gives the  impression that  part of the mystery is solved: UFOs are condensed matter, solid objects. Unfortunately, this is not so. We live in a world made largely of cheap plastics. Within six feet of where you are sitting, there is a consumer product made of ABS. It has a heft and feel familiar to you. It isn’t very strong; if you drop it, it might crack.

When an airplane crashes or a missile impacts, particularly in the southwest, debris is created that appears very exotic. If you were hiking and found a part made by superplastic forming and diffusion bonding, and you were a UFO believer, you would be very impressed. You would bring it to Mr. Bigelow’s warehouse, to be bagged, tagged, and shelved.  Identification of all this crushed-beyond-recognition junk is an open-ended effort that could take open-ended money. It’s too much work for negligible return.

Since we have no fenders that fell off UFOs, how can we get a hint of whether they are material? If you have a sick child, you touch your kid’s forehead with the back of your hand. Heat receptors in your skin detect the fever. Regardless of whether your child has a fever, your child has a temperature. All material objects have temperatures. Actors, projections on the silver screen, do not.

So if it’s material, it has a temperature. But can we measure it without touching? I’ve summoned the Chromatic Demon to demonstrate. He lives in a hot place. He asks if you have an electric stove. If you do, turn the room lights out,  turn an element on high, and watch it heat up. Your hand notices first; then the dimmest deepest red (his feet are always “cold”), which seems totally out proportion with the fiery heat; then the red of his cheeks, as the burner gets going, and finally, the element turns cherry red (the Demon’s heart), scorching your hand as you reach for the knob to turn it off.

The Chromatic Demon doesn’t like to be touched, but we can take his temperature without risking his irritation. All we have to do is procure an infrared thermometer from Amazon. This approach works for objects which are not hot enough to glow. It even works with cold things.

You might have a look at  Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) – The Secret Of The U-2’s Imaging Power. Scroll down to the chart in the box “SWIR for Military Applications.” Where does the Chromatic Demon fit on the chart? Does he occupy multiple spots? What would we expect for an infrared measurement of a UFO, and how could it defy our expectations?

Please don’t make him mad. If his horns turn from blue to red, bad things happen.

To be continued shortly.


(Chromatic Demon, 13″x18″, oil on canvas.)









Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 2

I promise we’ll get back to UFOs soon. But let’s turn now to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The North Korea technical was covered Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 1.  This is about political process.

(The Diplomat) UN Security Council Unanimously Approves New Sanctions Against North Korea. Until very recently, North Korea was  the irritating pawn of balance-of-power games. Now it has become an unprecedented example of cooperation between competing spheres.

Without fanfare, there seems to be a new desire  to avoid conflict in the larger world. In the past century or so,  most conflicts involved the  pretext of at least one side that concealed the desire for war. There seems to be an unprecedented  aversion of state actors for high intensity conflict. It could be the only plus of terrorism, a constant, visceral reminder of the cost of conflict. But the current situation also vindicates Henry Kissinger’s assertion that diplomacy must be backed by the potential use of force.

The distillation:

  • A unique international  coercion by economic means of an outlaw state.
  • An adversary who, the intelligence community has concluded, satisfies at least some of the definitions of sanity, but not all of them. He has an unremitting blood lust.
  • A weapon of poor quality, but not proven to invariably fail in all modes of use.
  • The assumption that the adversary is sane enough to lack confidence in his poor quality weapon, and to understand the consequences to him of use.
  • Retaliative acts by North Korea in modes other than nuclear.
  • Random factors internal to North Korea in the area of political stability.
  • Clandestine factors. Hinted at, there is no point in guessing.
  • The risks of doing something, which include collateral damage to South Korea.
  • The risks of doing nothing.
  • The U.S. domestic political climate.

The last three items result from examination of ourselves. Their sum  are the inputs for the  three modes of accepted legality of war directed by the Commander-in-Chief: Congressional declaration, imminent threat, or implied by  the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Declared war is no longer the norm. Starting with the Korean War of 1950-1953, presidents have on numerous occasions bypassed legal mechanism,  involving the U.S. in major conflicts without  legal confirmation of the power to do so. Unlike those prior conflicts,  North Korea then and now  presents a level of threat to national security not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both occasions test the assumption of rationality of the opponent.

The political context is provided by the Congressional testimony of Mattis and Tillerson to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 10/30/17. (The Hill) Mattis, Tillerson: No authority for military action in North Korea outside ‘imminent threat’. So rather than again stretch the war powers of the President, Mattis, Tillerson, and, no doubt, McMaster, have opted to shape the administration’s response to North Korea, as much as possible, to conform with:

  • The Constitutional right of Congress to declare war, which in the 18th century encompassed any prolonged conflict.
  • The power of the President, established by custom, to respond as Commander-in-Chief to an imminent threat.
  • The constraints of War Powers Resolution of 1973, which are most likely to limit the executive if an obvious imminent threat is not demonstrated.

The use of the war powers of the President as an adjunct to foreign policy have been subject to constant challenge and debate since 1973. The argument can be forcefully made that it is  essential  that force be available as an option  without the encumbrance of legislation for every action. The abuses can be stated with equal force. But quoting Mattis again,

“I believe under Article II, he has a responsibility to protect the country and if there was not time, I could imagine him not consulting or consulting as he’s doing something along the lines of for example of what we did at Shayrat air field in Syria where we struck that and Congress was notified immediately,” Mattis said. “In this case of North Korea, it would be a direct imminent or actual attack on the United States I think Article II would apply.”

The Shayrat strike was to stop a slaughter. If it had a connection with U.S. security, it is too distant to argue. But it had a very low risk of blow back. Let’s put  ourselves in the room again. Every President is conscious that  history will be his judge. But history has other actors as well: adversaries, friends, and chance. In (Face the Nation 5/28/17, transcript)  War with North Korea would be “catastrophic,” Defense Secretary Mattis says,

"But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we're not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means," Mattis said.

If you’re a fly in the room, you might hear the comparison with selling a stock short. If you’re long a stock, all you can lose is what you paid for it. But as with shorting a stock, a war with North Korea could have unanticipated costs.

The interview continues:

SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS: We consider it a direct threat even today, the North Korean threat. As far as that specific threat, I don't want to put a timeline on it. At this time, what we know, I'd prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don't even know.

We  began this piece with Mattis’s statement of 12/16 that North Korea is not a threat. We have a statement from 5/28 that it is. Since then, what has changed? The North Korea threat combines two extremes with one policy implication:

  • In contrast with  grinding land warfare, the North Korea threat can only be appreciated as an idea.
  • In spite of the lack of visceral cues such as bullets and blood, the North Korea threat is the most serious of all, both in risk and gain.
  • Policy makers have decided that a serious war, with serious risk, calls for a conservative interpretation of Presidential war powers, with an eventful trigger, understood by a broad swath of Americans.

The more significant the required trigger, the longer a strike is deferred, with possible loss of effectiveness. This could occur with actual deployment of nuclear tipped ICBMs to locations resistant to attack. But in spite of our overwhelming advantage in brainpower, circumventing-the-trigger is an open-ended question. It can’t be absolutely nailed down.

The magnitude of the required trigger is a compromise between eventfulness and factors of risk and reward not known to open source. What might that trigger be?

  • A missile-born  atmospheric detonation in the Pacific.
  • A long range test of ICBM standard trajectory, possibly with a survivable reentry vehicle, although it is not required to pose an EMP threat.
  • A deployment surge.
  • An orbiting satellite, or constellation of satellites, of plausible size and mass to contain a nuclear device.
  • A threat of unconventional delivery. The channels of communication relating to the North Korea threat, which are currently vibrantly clear, would suddenly become opaque.

An orbiting warhead is not part of any of the development tracks we have seen. But the Hwasong-15 is a new, second track. A third could be imagined. Could Kim Jong-un be a  strategist of sophistication? Could he be capable of  circumventing the trigger? A rapid surge of deployment, a fait-accompli?

(Reuters) North Korea likely to pursue talks, South says in rosy New Year forecast. It could be a sophisticated move of obfuscation, to interfere with a response if a trigger occurs. In a culture of elder-hierarchy, negotiations have precedent with the father, Kim Jong-il.

We’ve made the lists. But Occam’s Razor slices right through them, with the conclusion of  Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible. Sometimes a person can’t back up. We’ve seen this on all scales; from the trivial lie that cascades to the absurd, all the way to the dictator in the bunker.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.




Groupon Planetary Flying Saucer Cruises

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The Caribbean is dotted with getaway paradises, but the Sun shines on more than Earth. While fixing my Groupon friend’s phone in (CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’ and Things to Do on Mars; Your CNN Companion, I found more pictures. She’s been doing this a while.   I’ll dribble out the pics, because I don’t want this to get sensational.

It turns out she took a cruise on the oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a tropical paradise. She was stressed out, so the crowds and pressure of a Jovian jaunt didn’t suit. A slow paced Enceledalian yacht was just the thing. When it got the minimum of ten, she was picked up by Lyft Zero Gee. The cruise by saucer was pleasant. Everybody goes first class, and there are no add-on charges. Since Martians have X-ray vision, their security lines move.

Her yacht was made of glass. You could see right through the bottom. The gossamer sails billow gently in the tropical methane. Balanced on the mast is her native guide, attired in a traditional pressure suit.

Internet is kind of slow, about 180 minutes for a round trip ping. Her hosts explained that putting a hyperspace link in each yacht is currently too pricey. So why is this jaunt sooo attractive?

People with joint problems love it. The low gees and gentle caress of the compressed methane atmosphere make it like exercising in a pool. And Enceladians have invented more varieties of shuffleboard than you can imagine. With lower gravity, and the viscous atmosphere, the pucks slide yards at the slightest touch. But there’s a big surcharge if you lose one off the boat.

Incurable romantics find the green sun against a sky the color of vintage wine irresistible. Of course, it’s not for everyone.

Whatever floats your boat, right?


(Voyage to a Green Sun. 18×24, oil on canvas.)

UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 2

Let’s look first at the prosaic reasons for a “black” AATIP. Then we’ll get to the interesting stuff. The prosaic reasons fit the category of People Problems. Imagine you are a human resources officer for a company whose employees, besides prospecting for gold in the Australian Outback, are rewarded and fired for telling lies and inventing stories – at different times by different bosses. This is why Close Encounters was such a good movie.

One reason to go black  was to avoid death by laughter in Congress. If it had  survived that trial, AATIP would have been born into the special media circus reserved for the sensational. Quoting the NY Times,

None of the three senators wanted a public debate on the Senate floor about the funding for the program, Mr. Reid said. “This was so-called black money,” he said. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.” Mr. Reid was referring to the Pentagon budget for classified programs.

Ufology has a lousy signal-to-noise ratio, caused by:

  • Limitations of human perception.
  • Mental interpolation.
  • Psychological factors – the Rashomon Effect, and the reverse, “experience copying.”
  • Fraud and manipulation for gain.
  • The desire to be part of something greater than ourselves.

The desire promotes invention,  the messianic quality of UFO belief among the gullible, and  “UFO waves” of mass hysteria. The spectacle fuels  skepticism. Those of the concrete mind have no interest in something remote from their own experience. Somewhere in the middle, the moderately religious try to incorporate Ufology unobtrusively into their world views.

These factors are not reasons for skepticism of the phenomenon itself. But they emphasize the problem of designing a scientific activity that will null them out. Going black is an easy step to knock down the factors down. It doesn’t eliminate them, but sometimes you have to whittle your way to a solution.

Going black removes most of  “experience-copying” from the problem, leaving us to cope  just with analyzing the individual experience. One valid criticism of giving the contract to Robert Bigelow is that he appears to be what Eric Hoffer called a “true believer.” Belief, as opposed to inclination, of any kind that related to a scientific question is incompatible with researching that question . Perhaps Harry Reid felt that, since government projects have been historically driven by debunkers, it was time to give a believer a chance. OK, but once is enough.

Nota bene: To be a skeptic of human behavior is different from skepticism of alien visitations. A good investigator should have no bias on the question.

(NY Times)  Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program quotes James Oberg:

Still, Mr. Oberg said he welcomed research. “There could well be a pearl there,” he said.

Lacking a testable hypothesis, AATIP shared this idea: Sifting through enough reports, something will pop out. This is an open ended hypothesis. In statistics, it’s a no-no. But science goes well with with Louis Pasteur: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

So we have to prepare. But do we expect a fender to fall off one of these things? Drop some alien poop? We want to recognize something that is familiar but different. But the chance of this is negated, at least to the human observer, by the third of Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws:

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So the encounter of the human observer with UFO technology, advanced as it might be, is a completely unequal match. Even if a fender falls off, we may not recognize it. The limits of our perception are plays on what we know, such as an unknown material of incredible strength, or little green eggheads, or aerodynamic forces beyond the tolerance of human passengers.  To Donald Rumsfeld (New Yorker) we owe,

There are knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns…I think this construct is just powerful,” Rumsfeld said. “The unknown unknowns, we do not even know we don’t know them.”

What if an alien vehicle were not physically located where it appears to be? If it was a projection through a rent in space time, could we make sense of it by our tools of observation? What if the very fact of witnessing an event  does not fit our conception of logic, which goes back to Aristotle?

This is not an age for either the believer or the skeptic. Throughout the 19th century, ghosts and metaphysics receded from the onslaught of the electric light. By 1878, physicist Philipp von Jolly thought the work of physics was about done. But Max Planck started to show the cracks by 1899. Lately, physics has been making little forays into metaphysics. But the new rooms are draped in ghostly shadow. There is more room than ever for the mysteries of the universe(s).

So where do we go from here? Clark’s Second Law offers an opening:

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Easy to say, hard to do. But DoD and the intelligence community, as a kind of “due diligence”, make forays into the unknown. Once every 30 years or so, they check out anti gravity. Every once in a while, at low or no-budget, they take a stab at ESP. A few years ago, NSA bought a couple of claimed-to-be “quantum computers”, even though nobody knows how or if they work. What if they did or do? It’s too big a gamble to pass up. It’s insurance.

Ditto for AATIP.  But the UFO game is about to change in a big way.  The human observer exits the loop. We are now in the age of sensors.  With removal of the human factor, UFOs  become an engineering problem. New approaches make it possible to tickle Clark’s Second Law.

Next in Part 3: UFOs, sensors, machine vision, hyperspectral, data fusion, and  “Why black?”

If you’re a believer, you’ve probably already clutching  your copy of Alien Autopsy. So you won’t have to step away, here it is.

Or perhaps I should be kind. Whatever floats your boat.





UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 1

Preface: Many readers are doubtless more interested in the tax overhaul than the customary focus of this blog, foreign relations. So it’s as good a time as any to take up a subject considered silly by some.  This is a serious look.  References:

AATIP, (Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program) was canceled in 2012. It has been stated that the activity continues more secretly.  The fate of it resembles that of the program’s historical predecessors, Sign, GrudgeBluebook, etc. The $22M went  to fund the efforts of Harry Reid’s friend, Robert Bigelow. Atypically, Mr. Bigelow seems more interested in spending money on space research than making it. Appearances to the contrary, AATIP was not pork barrel.

But in the five years that it ran, AATIP could not escape the fate of prior investigations, lack of convergence to a conclusion. Since the inception of systematic study in 1947, after 70 years, nothing more is known about UFOs except that there is a residuum of events that have no explanation. The only “advance” that might have occurred is that “whatever it is” defies increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. Quoting Politico,

The former staffer said that eventually, however, even Reid agreed it was not worth continuing.

“After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” he recalled. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone—and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”

How does a scientist investigate the unknown? Rene Descartes precedes everyone. But the modern scientific method was devised by Francis Bacon. First comes the hypothesis, an explanation of what’s going on, untested, but with some rational basis. Then comes the experiment, which either supports or negates it. A hypothesis that cannot be proven false is not science. Later, it became accepted to challenge the hypothesis by multiple repetitions, and entirely different experiments, building a consensus view that shields science from individual error.

AATIP lacked a testable hypothesis. Sometimes you can get somewhere just by counting, which is what AATIP did.  If you want to know how common white crows are, you can ask people to report them. But your numbers won’t be accurate, because a white crow is more likely to be reported than a black one. No many how many observations you receive, your numbers will never converge to the right ones.

The Telegraph has an interesting  gallery, 140 years of UFO sightings – Part I. Some are astonishing, others hokey. All the sharable records, then and now, are photographic film, the eye that pointed the camera, and the mental interpretation. But any magician will tell you, seeing is no cause for believing.

For observations of the general public, elements of the below would appear in the checklists of a report:

  • Glowing, the UFO is a light source.
  • The UFO is illuminated like most of the things in the natural world, by reflected light.
  • Light from other objects is focused by the atmosphere to resemble something we are inclined to see, creating an illusion.
  • Lens flare. Light from outside the “field of view” of a camera lens reflects in the lens, creating the appearance of bright objects where none exist. Early photos, before anti reflection lens coatings were developed in the 1930’s, are particularly suspect. Early films, with little exposure latitude, give lens flare a solid appearance.
  • Sensing something beyond the limits of sharp vision, the observer mentally fills in the details.
  • A phenomena that lacks solidity, such as combustion of methane in a swampy area, is interpreted as something solid.
  • Psychological suggestibility.
  • The report was intentional fraud.

The focus of AATIP on military pilots, who are trained observers, and better technical tools of observation, push the noises in the above list way down. But the irrational still occurs, a major part of aircraft accidents, as loss of situational awareness.

Throughout, rumors of secret investigations have been the stuff of conspiracy theories. The myth is of a “black program” complete with captured spacecraft, frozen aliens, and, of course, Area 51 and Wright-Patterson. It’s always been baloney. But this time  (NY Times)  Elizondo asserts the activity continues:

Mr. Elizondo said that the effort continued and that he had a successor, whom he declined to name.

So it’s possible that AATIP has been succeeded by another black activity. This time, the reasons are completely logical, if not mundane, and have nothing to do with conspiracies. We’ll explore them in Part 2.













Things to Do on Mars; Your CNN Companion

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After my friend the Groupon tourist got over the purloining of her memories, she told me more. I thought her Martian getaway would be as interesting as a Podunk, Iowa timeshare. Not!

(CNN) Aliens, flying discs and sightings — oh my! A short history of UFOs in America just scratches the surface. It’s the difference between Chinatown and China. You just have to go there.

The romance of Mars gives up nothing to Mar-a-Lago. Four moonrises a night  evoke that many more romantic sighs. Martian hospitality, since they changed their diets, is unrivaled.

Pictured is the Night Jugglers act of the Imperial Martian Three Orbit Circus. Evanescent, brilliantly glowing, they perform their low-gravity acrobatics only at night, turning at daybreak into little mounds of red dust. You’ve already seen their mascot on the pink hoverboard, but did you know Rover can fly? The “gentleman” on the left is a Martian who spends hours in makeup to look like — one of us.

It’s included in the Groupon package. Bring a warm blanket, an atomic foot warmer, and your breathers. Oxygen is gratis throughout the event.

So next time you pass an old man on the street, pay him a little respect.


(18×24″, oil on canvas.)


(CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’

Finally, the Extraterrestrial Smoking Gun. Click to enlarge.)

(CNN) Former Pentagon UFO official: ‘We may not be alone’

Quoting Luis Elizondo, “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone,” Luis Elizondo said in an interview on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

We’ve waited a long time for this moment, for irrefutable proof of extra terrestrial life. In 1976, NASA images from orbiting probes provoked  speculation of the existence of an ancient civilization on Mars, hundreds of millions of years ago, before the Martian atmosphere dissipated under the attack of the solar wind. Backgrounder at Marsmon.pdf.

The most powerful telescopes have been unable to resolve this question in a manner favorable to Martians. But this bombshell was not obtained through secret technology. It was the carelessness of a Groupon tourist who left her cellphone within reach of my teething puppy. When I tried to salvage the phone, my first step was to back up the images, some of which, she claimed, were “priceless.” In a weak moment, I took a peek, expecting nothing more than baby pictures.

All I can say is, Whoa!!! This is BIIGG. I transcribed a bit of audio off the phone:

“Welcome to the Monuments of Mars. I am your Martian tour guide. Follow me on your pink hover boards as we explore the monumental carvings of the ancestors of humankind, first spotted by you Earthlings in 1976. Please stay on the trail, and do not give Rover any occasion to eat you. Beer, wine, spirits, and postcards are for sale in our pressurized yellow tent.”

The rest is garbled. The words sound like, “Duck! A meteor!” But why such secrecy? It appears that Groupon wants to skirt possible travel restrictions by the Trump Administration. Currently, if you want to book a Martian Groupon getaway, it involves a subterfuge.  You book a day trip to one of California’s Channel Islands. A Martian “tic-tac” express picks you up right from the boat.

Once Mars is excluded from travel restrictions, things should open up a bit.

Yeah, she hates me for this.


(12×12″, Golden Molding paste and acrylic on panel.)


Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 1

The North Korea ICBM threat is not visceral. With two brief exceptions, nuclear conflict has never been felt, but only imagined. Because it remains the subject of nightmarish contemplation, open source offers a meaningful fraction of the material chomped on by DoD and the White House. There is enough that we can imagine ourselves “in the room”, as flies-on-the-wall, as the U.S. response is debated at the highest levels. We begin with the technical in Part 1, and continue  in Part 2 with the political.

(CNN 12/16/17): Mattis says North Korea isn’t capable of striking the US. The CNN video sequence continues with statements by Tillerson and  McMaster. Quoting Mattis,

He added that the United States is still assessing the situation. "We are still examining the forensics, we're still doing the forensics analysis, it takes a while," he said.

A brief description of the forensics. The descending parts of the missile are tracked by radar at low angles relative to the horizon. This is challenging under the best conditions (imagine the haze you always see on the horizon).  Unless the tracking radar happens, by luck, to be near the splashdown point, it must cope with false reflections, atmospheric effects, and ionization.

As the descending parts pass through roughly 300,000 feet, they are enveloped in clouds of ionized, glowing gas, which reflect radar much more strongly than the objects themselves. This always happens, but is magnified if the parts have coatings  that vaporize – a complication.  It becomes difficult or impossible to know how large the objects actually are, and their individual identities frequently become lost. As they pass through 100,00 feet, the glowing cloud dissipates. Falling through dense atmosphere, how fast they fall provides estimates of how dense they are. But at this point, the smaller pieces are frequently lost. It may be impossible to distinguish between an upper rocket stage, and a reentry vehicle, and a fragment.

Air search radars and tracking radars do not provide visual images.  Radio echoes are interpreted by computer to provide user friendly displays. So where does the forensics come in?  Military radars have echo recorders. The U.S. maintains a large library of echo data from various targets. These are used for comparison, but an exact match is not the goal. So a paraphrase of Mattis’s statement could be, We think the business end of the missile fell as a bunch of junk, but we can’t be sure.”

Quoting again, we have an opinion about how useful the missile really is:

"I'm highly suspicious about the capability of the Hwasong-15," retired Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and expert in aerospace and missile defense, said in an email....The red flag for O'Reilly and other missile experts is that the North Koreans keep shooting the missile almost straight up, and not in the parabolic arc of a standard missile trajectory, which is harder to achieve.

O’Reilly is undeniably correct. Imagine throwing a baseball. There are three ways your throw can be off:

  • Velocity.  If you throw straight up, the strength of the throw doesn’t matter; it comes straight down. If you’re trying to hit a patch near the fence, the strength of the throw is half the problem. For an ICBM, this is equivalent to the thrust of the rocket motor, and the exact time of rocket motor cutoff. Both require extreme precision.
  • Vertical angle, (elevation). The straight upwards lob is easy. If you don’t throw it exactly straight up, the error coming down is mild, proportional.  But for a distance throw, the error is much more than proportional. For your ball to land on the patch near the fence, you have to coordinate the strength of your throw with a mentally calculated “keyhole” in mid-air. The ball must pass through the keyhole at the exact speed. This is a two-variable, mental calculation that some athletes can perform with astonishing accuracy.
  • Bearing, compass-point,  or “azimuth” At 6000 miles, a 1 degree error in bearing is 105 miles.

But a wildly inaccurate Hwasong-15 still has some chance at successful delivery of  a nuclear warhead to the vicinity of U.S. population centers. Avoiding re-entry difficulties, a high altitude nuclear detonation would comprise a successful EMP attack.

The above should not be taken as second-guessing Mattis’s statement, which fits the difficult requirement of single-sentence brevity. But we can use it as an opportunity to examine the context of decision making at the highest level. The decision makers are served by pyramids of specialists and their analyses.  But the vast mass of  detail doesn’t survive. it all distills down to:

  • A weapon of poor quality, but not proven to inevitably fail in all modes of use.
  • An adversary who, the intelligence community has concluded, satisfies at least some of the definitions of sanity, but not all of them. Kim Jong-un has an unremitting blood lust.
  • The assumption that the adversary is sane enough to lack confidence in his poor quality weapon, and to understand the consequences to him of use.
  • Clandestine factors. Hinted at, there is no point in guessing. They could provide a pleasant upside, but we are primarily interested in limiting the downside.
  • The risks of doing something.
  • The risks of doing nothing.
  • The domestic political climate.

The first three items result from foreign intelligence. They make an argument against immediate action that can be somewhat negated by reductio-ad-absurdum:

  • As the quality of the ICBM improves, the chance that the Kim Jong-un will use it increases.
  • The endpoint is a weapon that Kim Jong-un can use with confidence.
  • But then he faces massive retaliation. Hence, the quality of the missile is irrelevant.

If you’re in the room, your response might be, “Let’s move on.” In spite of attempts at rationality, only Harry Truman’s sign can deal with it. But you wanted to be in the picture, didn’t you?

To be continued shortly.

In the meantime, can our adversary’s demands be met?

U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem

This blog has a small voice. Readers find it useful on subjects where rationality dominates, and strong opinions have not already been formed. If I have an opinion about the embassy move, it is of no interest to you. If I share my opinion, you are likely to filter future writings as “by that guy who believes that…”  This blog is about analysis, not belief.

So excluding opinion, what can be said about the embassy move that isn’t already obvious? By following an issue over a long period of time, sometimes, using the tools of analysis demonstrated in this blog,  something pops out. But “Who rules Jerusalem?” has been on everybody’s radar since at least 600 B.C.  Nevertheless, perhaps something can be drawn out  about possible near term mechanisms of change.

The individual human may have free will. But groupings of people behave statistically. Groupings that have been intensively studied since 9/11 are the pools of potentially radical youth. Every country has them. The members of these pools combine  tabula rasa minds, not yet filled with attitudes and beliefs that exclude the poison of terror, testosterone, and the youth that makes them generational cannon fodder. In any generation, a certain number of young men end up being born to die, a fate we try to exclude by improving their firmware. Unfortunately, a certain percentage are running version 1.0.

The venerable bell curve predicts so many things, it is likely that if we throw enough young men into the grouping, the bell curve will reveal itself. On one tail of the bell lie committed pacifists. The other tail is made of out-of-the-box terrorists. In between lie the radicalizable. This is an ugly fact of human nature that we want to blame on bad upbringing. But in former times,  cannon fodder actually had a purpose. They died for the survival of their clans, just like the warrior ants seen battling to the death on pavements during warm spring days.

It is reasonable to conclude that the moving of Jerusalem will result in a shift of the parameters of the bell curve, enlarging the groups who make the radical transition all the way to the tip of the bell curve tail, to terror. This has has nothing to do with rational opinion. If individuals have free will, groups behave with something approaching determinism.

But the leaders of the countries of the Middle East are individuals with free will. They’ve seen too much blood to want another war. To these rational minds, the imminent threat is Iran. This is the logical barrier to conflict over Jerusalem.

To stateless extremists, these leaders present an obstacle, but also a mechanism, for actualizing a conflict over Jerusalem. The mechanism is assassination. Three leaders are in particular danger. In order of vulnerability:

Abdullah is the most vulnerable because of

  • Presence of radical elements in  the Jordanian military,  demonstrated at lower echelons, with implications for upper echelons.
  • Proximity of Jordan to the locus of conflict.
  • Heterogeneous population of mixed loyalty.

That Abdullah is alive today is due to an intrusive mukhabarat, not flag waving patriotism.

Prince Salman is vulnerable because the process of transforming Saudi Arabia into a modern state entails intermediate instability.

El-Sisi is vulnerable to the radical tail of the bell curve. Egypt has a complexity of society that facilitates  concealed radical elements. But as the assassination of Anwar Sadat demonstrates, the same complexity provides Egypt with inertial stability against radical change.